“A queer hope associates hope not with the overcoming of stigma, not with acquiring a body whose skin carries no trace of an injury, but hope in or even hope as the very failure to overcome.”—"Sensitivity to Stigma: Eve Sedgwick and Queer-of-Colour Critique," Sara Ahmed (x)
“Deleuze teases out the text in such a way that the thinkers he engages with express meanings (that is, potential lines of development) which perhaps they never intended, but which striate or traverse their thought, nonetheless, like fissures within glass. It is important, however, to emphasise here that in doing so Deleuze never puts words into the mouths of others—he merely draws forth and synthesises latent strands of implicated meaning, unconscious differences that the thinkers themselves could not or would not discern within their own thought.”— Graham Jones and Jon Roffe, “Introduction: Into the Labyrinth,” Deleuze’s Philosophical Lineage, pg.4 (via bemusedbibliophile)
“privation is demand directed to a lost object; frustration is demand which cannot be given its object; castration is demand for which there is no object.
In each case the subject is directed outwards to an external object, and it is the relationship of this demand to the place of the object that becomes the basis for identification.
privation, frustration and castration … are the three moments of gradual intrusion of the axis of desire. They correspond to the division Real, Imaginary and Symbolic.”—"Sexuality In The Field Of Vision" - Jacqueline Rose, p.182 (via alterities)
“At base, affirming that mathematics accomplishes ontology unsettles philosophers because this thesis absolutely discharges them of what remained the centre of gravity of their discourse, the ultimate refuge of their identity.”—Badiou, 'Being & Event' (via aidsnegligee)
"In the future, we will all be thinking the ecological thought."
"How to care for the neighbor, the strange stranger, and the hyperobject, are the long-term problems posed by the ecological thought. The ecological thought hugely expands our ideas of space and time. It forces us to invent ways of…
“Strange stranger names an uncanny, radically unpredictable quality of life-forms. Life-forms recede into strangeness the more we think about them, and whenever they encounter one another—the strangeness is irreducible. Ecological philosophy that does not attend to this strangeness is not…
“People come in to the theory class with the expectation that they will hear that one can make anything mean anything. Theory teachers will always get a certain essay on deconstruction that totally misinterprets it along these lines. That is in fact what we could refer to as the pre-theory attitude. What you should leave the theory class with is the knowledge that not only is the interpretation of texts subject to all kinds of nonsubjective constraints, but also a place for you has been pre-established by the text itself. It’s like those maps with the little red arrow that says, “You are here.””— Timothy Morton (via so-this-is-gradschool)
"To write poetry is to force the reader to coexist with fragile phrases, fragile ink, fragile paper: to experience the many physical levels of a poem’s architecture. Since there is no top object, no bottom object, and no middle object, sheer coexistence is what there is. To write poetry is to…
“Interpreting the book depends upon interpreting the blanks between the marks, letters, words, sentences, paragraphs, and pages. Is there something in the blanks, or nothing? How can we tell? Derrida, eat your heart out.”—Timothy Morton ‘The Ecological Thought’ (via thehorizonsend)
Whiteness is multidimensional, complex, systemic and systematic:
It is socially and politically constructed, and therefore a learned behavior
It does not just refer to skin colour but is ideology based on beliefs, values behaviors, habits and attitudes, which result in the unequal distribution of power and privilege based on skin colour (Frye, 1983; Kivel, 1996)
It represents a position of power where the power holder defines the categories, which means that the power holder decides who is white and who is not (Frye, 1983)
It is relational. “White” only exists in relation/opposition to other categories/locations in the racial hierarchy produced by whiteness. In defining ‘others,’ whiteness defines itself.
It is fluid - who is considered white changes over time (Kivel, 1996)
It is a state of unconsciousness: whiteness is often invisible to white people, and this perpetuates a lack of knowledge or understanding of difference which is a root cause of oppression (hooks, 1994)
It shapes how white people view themselves and others, and places white people in a place of structural advantage where white cultural norms and practices go unnamed and unquestioned (Frankenberg, 1993). Cultural racism is founded in the belief that “whiteness is considered to be the universal … and allows one to think and speak as if Whiteness described and defined the world.” (Henry & Tator, 2006, p. 327)
“The trouble with explaining what queerness is (to your parents, to straight cis people, to your friends, to yourself) is that as soon as you define queerness as this or that, you have lost it. Once you pin queerness down and establish boundaries of what queer is and what it means, whatever that is isn’t queer anymore. It’s a solidified identity, which is precisely what queer isn’t. And so you have to go in search of the queer again. Every time you try to pin it down, it escapes you: that is queerness’ power. I won’t go so far as to say queerness is the search for the queer, but it is perpetually in motion. This makes people uncomfortable. Being queer can feel a bit like sea-sickness sometimes. Some people may even doubt the existence of the queer, given this notion of queer as horizon (as outlined by Jose Munoz). However, I would argue that unlike saying “Queer is…” saying “I am queer” does not limit queerness in a way that eliminates it. Instead, it enacts the notion of queer as horizon: it opens queer up to the infinite possibilities of your future. It understands your present as one of the possibilities of your past future. To say “I am queer” is not to say that queer is only what you are, but that you are an iteration which can and will expand queerness. You are a queerness which has never heretofore occurred, and all your potential is the realm of queer horizon of being. So the academic understanding of queerness does not destroy queer in lived experience. Queer continues to exist in the potentiality of queer-identified bodies. That is what, or where, queer is.”—Haley Weaver, Enacting a Queer Ethic of Writing: Sometimes Y (via rainbowsorbetbeautiful)
“I may appear to be popular and, in this sense, influential, but when you look at the actual structure of American academia, … we [Lacanians] are extremely marginalized. If we are accepted, it is in the way that … in boxing you call ‘clinching’—embracing the enemy.”—Slavoj Zizek (via alterities)
“Dyke anger, anticolonial despair, racial rage, counterhegemonic violence, punk pugilism—these are the bleak and angry territories of the antisocial turn; these are the jagged zones within which not only self-shattering (the opposite of narcissism in a way) but other-shattering occurs. If we want to make the antisocial turn in queer theory we must be willing to turn away from the comfort zone of polite exchange in order to embrace a truly political negativity, one that promises, this time, to fail, to make a mess, to fuck shit up, to be loud, unruly, impolite, to breed resentment, to bash back, to speak up and out, to disrupt, assassinate, shock, and annihilate.”—Judith Halberstam, The Queer Art of Failure (via riseabovethemadness)
“In translating the psychoanalytic to the ethical by way of normativity, Butler writes the unconscious out of the story, producing subjects as ethical internationalists who can make cognitive decisions to short-circuit foundational affective attachments in order to gain a better good life. One might note the political problems with this circuit of displacement: as I and others have argued, projects of compassionate recognition have enabled a habit of political obfuscation of the differences between emotional and material (legal, economic, institutional) kinds of social reciprocity.”—Lauren Berlant goes for the slam dunk on JB (via rhizombie)
“Whether viewed psychoanalytically, institutionally, or ideologically, in this entry love is deemed always an outcome of fantasy. Without fantasy, there would be no love. There would be no way to move through the uneven field of our ambivalent attachments to our sustaining objects, which possess us and thereby dispossess us of our capacity to idealize ourselves or them as consistent and benign simplicities. Without repairing the cleavages, fantasy makes it possible not to be destroyed by all that.”—Lauren Berlant, Desire/Love (via theagonistes)
“The war is on terror and not simply fear because fear has an object, while terror leaks potentially into all spaces of experience.”—Lauren Berlant in ‘The Epistemology of State Emotion” (via spleencave)
“Although no single act literally corresponds to the drawing up and singing of a contract, there is a series of acts—papal bulls and other theological pronouncements; European discussions about colonialism, “discovery,” and international law; pacts, treaties, and legal decisions; academic and popular debates about the humanity of nonwhites; the establishment of formalized legal structures of differential treatment; and the routinization of informal illegal or quasi-legal practices effectively sanction by the complicity of silence and government failure to intervene and punish perpetrators—which collectively can be seen, not just metaphorically but close to literally, as [the Racial Contract’s] conceptual, juridical, and normative equivalent.”—Charles Mills, The Racial Contract, p. 21 (via queertheoryissexy)
“Sometimes I think I’ve felt everything I’m ever gonna feel. And from here on out I’m not gonna feel anything new. Just lesser versions of what I’ve already felt.”—Her, screenplay by Spike Jonze (via 691180)
“Being white, therefore, doesn’t mean being privileged, in part because, as I have argued, many, if not most, of the advantages of whiteness in a racist world are better understood as rights that we actively prevent nonwhites from sharing. Being white doesn’t mean being privileged, it means being an oppressor. The appeal to privilege, well-intentioned and even insightful as it has been, has made it easier for whites to ignore this reality. Anti-racist praxis for whites is thus not a call to recognize and reject white privilege, but rather a call to take responsibility for our role as oppressors, a role which is, from the ground up, constituted by and a legitimating practice of the systems of racial oppression that give whiteness its meaning in the first place. While taking responsibility in this context may certainly require individual resistance to our role as oppressors, it first and foremost means contesting and resisting those systems that give that role its meaning and efficacy.”—Michael Monahan, “Toward a Critical Appraisal of Privilege” (via navigatethestream)
"For this is what art is: a bundle of affects or, as Deleuze and Guattari would say, a bloc of sensations, waiting to be reactivated by a spectator or participant.10 Indeed, you cannot read affects, you can only experience them.” Simon O’Sullivan in The Aesthetics of affect. Thinking art…
The basic plot, which cannot be ignored even in the films, is that Harry, Hermione and Ron give up everything for their political struggle. They drop out of high school, they go illegal, defy the government, belong to an underground organization [The Order of the Phoenix], operate out of safe houses and forests and even raid offices of the government and banking offices. This is all done in principled opposition to the Dark Wizard Voldemort and a corrupt bureaucratized government that has been heavily infiltrated with his evil minions. This is revolutionary activity. But the movie version does not present it as such or emphasize these radical aspects of the plot, thereby entirely missing the dramatic sweep and action present in the first half of the last novel.
The novels recognize the importance of alternative media for political struggle. The mainstream press [The Daily Prophet] is shown as unreliable and unprincipled, eventually deteriorating into a fear-mongering propaganda machine for the Voldemort-controlled bureaucracy. For a while the alternative but above ground media [The Quibbler] publishes the real news, but it ceases to print after the daughter of the publisher is kidnapped. In the book, friends of Harry [Lee Jordan, with Fred and George Weasley as frequent guests] start broadcasting the real news from an underground radio station, encrypted with a password. This radio station becomes a critical link for the resistance, which is scattered and weak. Although we are treated to some radio broadcast updates in the movie, they are delivered by a disembodied and professional sounding voice, not our friends the Weasleys. This undermines the important message - a guiding principle behind the media coop - that in a serious situation it becomes necessary to produce your own media and not to rely on ‘professionals’.
The novel makes it clear that in this phase of the struggle the characters romantic lives take a backseat to their political activity, as Harry breaks up with the love of his life [Ginny Weasley] so as to avoid making her a target for Voldemort’s forces, who are known to use torture and kidnapping as tactics. The ‘love triangle’ that becomes the focus of the movie isn’t even really present in the books. In the books, the relationship between Harry and Hermione is totally platonic - Ron is shown as jealous, but the feeling is entirely without foundation. In the book Harry says to Ron: “I love her like a sister and I reckon she feels the same way about me. It’s always been like that. I thought you knew” (pg 378, DH US Hardback). This conveys that men and women can be close comrades and friends without being involved romantically. But in the film, Harry and Hermione are shown dancing romantically, and Harry’s line to Ron about his brotherly feeling towards Hermione does not even make it into the film. This completely undermines the important message that jealousy is counter-productive and has toxic effects, which is an important feminist message for young people.
It was with great sadness that I learned about the recent sudden death of the prominent queer theorist Jose Esteban Munoz. I had certainly heard of Munoz, even seen him give a talk, and read parts of Dissidentification but had not yet delved into his last major, and some would probably say defining now, bookCruising Utopia: The Then and There of Queer Futurity. It is a proudly polemical book and also just plain fun to read. In it Munoz insists again and again on the necessity of imagining utopia and the link between utopias and queerness.
On the first page he declares that “we are not yet queer,” and “queerness is not yet here.” Instead it belongs to the future, an ideality we may never touch. Like utopia, queerness is something that exists then and over there, in a not-present past or a not-yet-here future. The critical function of utopia for Munoz is the way it provokes us to critique are present conditions. Queerness as an utopia urges us to examine the current state of queer liberation, of the abandonment of even the language of liberation for pragmatic concerns of marriage and the military; in short, the homonormative decision to incorporate gay and lesbian lives into the kyriarchal capitalist structure instead of challenging it. The anger and sorrow Munoz feels over this detour in history is palpable and his method is to look back to queer moments in the past, mainly in the history of avant garde American art, as a way to imagine queer future utopias.
In reading Munoz I am not only struck by his keen critical intelligence and passion for queer liberation but also his concern for social justice in general. Munoz’s queer utopias often function to critique the contemporary gay rights movement but he never ignores the role capitalism plays in foreclosing the imagining of utopian futures. Indeed, my mind turned to Munoz while reading a recent lecture by Steven Shaviro on Accelerationism. Shaviro points out that in Marx’s view of capitalism its internal contradictions would someday become so great that they would necessarily tear capital apart, with the assistance of the communist movement. Yet, we are living in the time of greatest capitalist contradiction, to the point where capitalism is actively destroying any possible future for humans to even engage in the market, through the degradations of climate change.
It is not that there is any real technological impediment to this overcoming of capitalism - Shaviro points out that the real economic problem is not scarcity but abundance - but that there is no political organization to redistribute the productive forces of capitalism. Instead capitalist leaders insist that there is no alternative to capital, and so we are left with Mark Fisher’s concept of capitalist realism where capitalist ideology actively forecloses any real image of a post-capitalist future. The truly insidious part here is not only does capitalism foreclose the intellectual and artistic space to even imagine a future beyond it, but it also works to ensure that there will be no future to prove it wrong in the last instance!
In this situation it is all the more important to be bold in our imaginations of a post-capitalist, and utopian, world. This would seem to be one way of carrying on Munoz’s work, to imagine possible queer utopias. Interestingly, post-capitalist utopia may itself be quite queer. As Keynes puts it, in a society where all of our material conditions are met the real question will be how “to live wisely and agreeably and well.” This is a rather more expansive question than worrying where our food or shelter will come from. It is a question I can easily imagine Munoz dwelling on at length, looking for possibilities of an “agreeably” well-lived life in queer art and performance.
In a similar vein Marx wrote of a daily life where he would “hunt in the morning, fish in the afternoon, rear cattle in the evening, criticize after dinner, just as I have a mind, without ever becoming hunter, fisherman, shepherd or critic.” Shaviro labels this a “19th-century aesthete view of self-fashioning” pursued not just by Marx and Keynes but also professional aesthetes like Oscar Wilde, William Morris, and other queer visionaries. Indeed, might not the post-capitalist utopia already be queer? In a society free of material want people could do as they want, creating new relations between people and things, cruising the world in ways intellectual, social, artistic, and sexual. The patriarchal family would not be necessary as a unit of production or control, nor perverse masculinities instantiated through the exchange of women. Capitalist fears of a post-work world may not just be a fear of losing their own power, but also a homophobic revulsion of a world that would unbound the linked meanings of work, masculinity, and heteronormativity.
In writing about utopia Munoz also emphasizes the importance of everyday utopias, the performance of actions and creations of spaces that gesture at the utopian. Munoz often identifies such moments in performance art and dance, queer drag shows, and other moments that disrupt the totality of straight time and heteronormative space. These moments gesture, in many of Munoz’s cases literally, at possible utopian worlds that would harbor and encourage queer intimacy and kinship. Aside from the space of performance, there’s two more spaces of everyday utopianism I would like to point out as an ending to this panegyric.
The first is tumblr itself, or more particularly some of the activities that take place on tumblr. Tumblr as company, and bought by yahoo, is already enmeshed in capitalist relations and indeed can only make profit off of the labor of its users. The labor of tumblr users is not merely a cryptic source of profit though, but in the variety of creativity and activity that can be found I think certain tumblr spaces gesture at utopian spaces of creative exchange. Whenever I take a look at, say, One Piece or Sleepy Hollow fandoms on tumblr I am awed at the amount of creative expression fans devote to their shows. While still acting out in the space of the market, fans articulate their own dreams and desires through various kins of self-expression, like fan art, fan fic, gif reactions, screenshots, tags, etc. If all this is done is the interstitial spaces outside work and school, then what creativity would be released in a post-work world? Through such tumblr fan communities I think it is possible to glimpse the potentials of utopias of creative expression and exchange.
The other everyday utopia I often witness and validate is the space of the liberal arts in higher education. Higher education itself of course is more and more financialized and commodified by the day. There should be no mistake in ignoring it as a battleground. Yet again in certain spaces, like the liberal arts college, I believe we can see potentials for utopia. Going back to the idea that the question of a post-work society is what exactly we will do with ourselves, one idea is to engage in creative economies while another is to turn the form of life itself into a kind of education. Not in the modern perverted form of endless degrees and endless debt, but instead as communities where people would teach and learn from each other what ever they desire, from criticism to bee-keeping. At its best this is what a liberal arts college should be, a space where students can engage in open learning free from the pressure of material wants and economic logic. Of course, most colleges and universities will not meet this standard but that is exactly what makes it utopic, worth imagining as Munoz would tell us. The queer utopia is not yet here, as now is Munoz, but that can only inspire us more to find it in the midst of our lives.
“My particular sadnesses, then, were all the more humiliating and confusing in so closely reflecting the critical writings to which I, as an initiate into queer theory, was attached. My experience of feeling ersatz, however, had none of the thrill of reading about being ersatz; likewise (to look ahead to another queer paradigm), my experience of feeling shattered lacked all the thrill of reading about being shattered. Stronger than the excitement of radical new possibilities of self-losing, of the vigorous embrace of factitiousness, was the grief of self-loss and the consuming repellence of feeling fictive. It seemed humiliating to approximate, even literalize, the conditions that in theory seemed so important, even exhilarating; but only to approximate them, to come up short. What I wanted for myself was the opposite of what I found intellectually most interesting and vital.”—Michael Snediker, ”Queer Optimism” (via significantindark)
Homonormativity is a chameleon-like ideology that purports to push for progressive causes such as rights to gay marriage and other “activisms,” but at the same time it creates a depoliticizing effect on queer communities as it rhetorically remaps and recodes freedom and liberation in terms of privacy, domesticity, and consumption.
In other words, homonormativity anesthetizes queer communities into passively accepting alternative forms of inequality in return for domestic privacy and the freedom to consume.
”—Martin F. Manalansan IV, ‘Race, Violence, and Neoliberal Spatial Politics in the Global City’ in Social Text 23/3-4 (2005). (via literature-and-cats)
;On Two Strains of Affect Theory
When one speaks of affect theory today there are roughly two distinct, though often overlapping, strains of thought concerned with affect that may be referenced. I use “strain” to indicate that these different thinkers are not purely isolated from each other and indeed do cross over a lot in their work on affect, but that there are enough differences in emphasis and style to form two different groups of theorists.The first strain of affect theory is comprised of those thinkers who use affect as an ontological description of reality. This strain of ontological affect can often be traced back to Deleuze and his readings of Spinoza, particularly Spinoza’s now famous idea that we do not yet know what the human body can accomplish. This strain then includes many prominent Deleuzians such as John Protevi (Political Affect), Brian Massumi (Parables of the Virtual), and William Connolly (World of Becoming). This strain also includes the contemporary heirs of Alfred North Whitehead’s unique metaphysics of process philosophy, such as Steven Shaviro (Without Criteria) and Isabelle Stengers (Thinking with Whitehead).
The other strain of affect theory, and the one that more readily claims itself by that name, is comprised of feminist and queer theorists focused on affect as naming particular connections between the somatic and the social. For these thinkers affect also often names forms of being such as intimacy, sentimentality, and feeling that have been marginalized and denigrated. This strain is arguably inaugurated by Eve Kosoefsky Sedgwick in Touching Feeling with her essays on the affect theory of the psychologist Silvan Tomkins (also subject of an earlier edited volume Shame and its Sisters) and her call for reparative reading strategies that would counteract what she calls paranoid criticism. Later prominent thinkers who work in affect theory include Lauren Berlant (Cruel Optimism), Sara Ahmed (The Promise of Happiness), Ann Cvetkovich (An Archive of Feelings and Depression), and Heather Love (Feeling Backwards). There have also been edited collections such as The Affect Theory Reader and The Affective Turn.
What exactly is affect and what do these two strains have in common? There is no one clear definition of affect in affect theory. At its most general affect can be defined as a force or intensity that creates a relationship between the body and the world and a relationship that is often outside of conscious cognition. In turning to the language of affect both strains try to get around certain problems that are seen as impossible to solve with only the tools of post-structuralism and the linguistic turn. Many of these thinkers are committed to conceptions of life as consisting of dynamic multiplicities and shy away from any forms of “either/or” thinking. The mind-body problem and tensions between the individual and the social are cast aside as inadequate or outmoded thinking for our complicated world. Instead the thinkers attempt to capture what is happening at every level, from the non-cognitive functions of the body and the automatic responses of the brain to the intensities and forces of the social and bodies politic. Many of these thinkers are also often united in political projects of emancipation and social justice, and the ways that affect encourages and hinders political action.
What exactly separates the two strains then, which I will roughly distinguish between ontological affect and cultural affect? In the strain of ontological affect theory it is affect that names a general property of ontology and the structure of reality as such. Affect is non-anthropocentric even though it seems to infuse much of human life; this is because affect infuses much of everything. Affect occurs between a rock and a flower in much the same way as it occurs between a human and the flower. In his work on Whitehead, Shaviro writes “Even though the ‘thing in itself’ is unknowable, or unrecognizable, nevertheless it affects us, in a particular way. And by conveying and expressing ‘the way we are affected,” space and time establish immanent, non-cognitive connections among objects, between the object and the subject, and between the subject and itself.” In another section he writes “Time and space, the inner and the outer forms of intuition, are modes of feeling before they are conditions for understanding.” Affect in Whitehead names not just the way the subject encounters objects also the general rules of causality itself. The affective life of the subject is only different in a matter of degree from the affective interactions of objects in general.
This does not stop Whitehead from talking in great detail about human cognition and perception, especially in his formulation of aesthetics as first philosophy. In Whitehead aesthetics and our understanding of beauty become central concepts for relationality itself. Shaviro writes “A subject does not cognize the beauty of an object. Rather, the object lures the subject while remaining indifferent to it; and the subject feels the object, without knowing it or possessing it or even caring about it. The object touches me, but for my part I cannot grasp it or lay hold of it, or make it last. I cannot dispel its otherness, its alien splendor. If I could, I would no longer find it beautiful: I would, alas, merely find it useful.” I would also note that for Whitehead, and Shaviro, what makes affect an important explanation of relations is that it allows for novelty and creativity in the relation, so that neither object consumes the other but instead can dynamically lead to a new outcome. As Shaviro writes “Aesthetic experience is a kind of communication without communion and without consensus.”
Of course, other thinkers in the strain of ontological affect do not hold the same acclaim for Whitehead or focus on aesthetics, but in general they do tend to use affect as a way of describing relationality and causality as such, with the human’s affective life being merely a subset of affect as a category. John Protevi, for example, uses Deleuzian ontology of multiplicities and assemblages to “go above, below, and alongside the subject in examining politically shaped and triggered affective cognition: above to the social, below to the somatic, and alongside to the assemblage.” Protevi is as concerned with the affective life of the human subject as Whitehead is concerned with aesthetics, but he also rigorously establishes affect as part of a larger ontological explanation of reality.
What defines the strain of cultural affect theory then? While its predominant thinkers are just as smart and incisive there is less emphasis on systematic thinking, of attempting to place affect as a general category. These theorists are concerned with many of the same issues of attempting to find connections between the body and the social that bypass cognition and how these apparently non-cognitive forces can be shaped by cultural and political forces as well. Much of this work though is more localized, focused on particular kinds of affects and the qualities they engender.
Lauren Berlant in Cruel Optimism is concerned with the affect of the same name and the ways politically-conceived fantasies of the good life can clash with the material conditions of every day existence. Here Berlant focuses on affect as a way of naming a being in the world that appears to both propel the subject forward and keep it frustratingly in place. Ann Cvetkovich in Depression focuses on the affective life of mental illness and its complicated relationship with social forces like racism and immigration. Both works could be claimed to be part of a whole genre of work on negative affect that also includes Heather Love’s excellent work on negative affect and cross-generational queer history in Feeling Backwards. Sara Ahmed in her excellent book Queer Phenomenology lays out affect as a similar mode of inquiry as phenomenology and explains how both could be used to describe different ways of being in the world. She followed it by looking at the affect of happiness in The Promise of Happiness as an affect both promised and denied to minority subjects and the affective life of racism and higher education in On Being Included.
All of these works brilliantly dissect particular and singular affects with an eye to cultural and social forces and are less concerned with systematically mapping the exact ontological status of affect. There is little interest in putting affect together with scientific theories, as John Protevi and Steven Shaviro do. If there is any engagement with other fields it is often psychoanalysis and attempts to explain why affect is a richer explanation of non-cognitive processes than the psychoanalytic drive (a critique Leo Bersani has in turn taken to task). Much of the work in the cultural strain of affect theory seems to inherit the speculative tendencies of affect first highlighted by Sedgwick. When she first wrote of affect it was as a means to critique paranoid criticism, the constant attempt to define exactly how a particular work was prohibitive and had a hidden core that needed to be discovered and revealed by the critic. Sedgwick instead called for practices of reparative reading that would open up the text to different forms of engagements and drew on the language of affect to describe what exactly a reparative form of reading, that embraces speculation and openness, might be. Theorists from Berlant to Ahmed seem to have kept open that affective promise of speculation even as they often focus on negative affects.
Obviously in many respects it is hard to differentiate between the two strains. In their turn to affect both could be said to be a part of the ontological turn in theory, and thinkers like Brian Massumi, Protevi, and Shaviro are as interested in the cultural and social realms as any Queer or Feminist theorist. An essay of Steven Shaviro’s was included in The Affect Theory Reader for example. Jane Bennett also in some ways may be a figure who crosses over both sides. Though in her book Vibrant Matter she does not invoke any affect theory there is a strong concern with vitalism, ontology, and the inculcation of particular affective responses to objects. The fact that a recent conference devoted to her work was called “A Feeling for Things” may indicate that many people see a kinship between her own works and affect theory. Recording of that conference can be found here.
The feminist theorist Clare Hemmings also sees little difference between the two strands and takes both to task in her critical essay “Invoking Affect: Cultural Theory and The Ontological Turn.” Published in 2005, before many of these works were written, Hemmings puts both Sedgwick and Massumi together as advocating for an ontological turn to affect as a way of escaping the apparent impasses of post-structuralist cultural theory, of the apparent domination by power and the paranoid search for its agents. However, she notes that the impasse in theory is more claimed than proven, and in constructing an impasse that affect theory solves both Sedgwick and Massumi sideline other prominent work – in feminist science studies and post-colonial theory – that also work to overcome the dualisms of prohibition and subversion. Hemmings is ultimately not very sympathetic to affect theory and fails to see exactly what problems it solves or what new avenues for thought it opens, especially if it does not honestly engage with other genealogies of theory that are concerned with the same kinds of questions. Affect theory seems to offer the critic a speculative freedom that is hard to turn down, even if that freedom is ultimately illusory.
Following Hemmings, if it is not even very clear what affect theory is, what is the purpose of claiming there are already two different strains of it? I wanted to write this post in order to point out that even if conceptually it is not clear what defines or categorizes different works on affect, from the position of the reader there do seem to be different kinds of affect theory. Ultimately any difference between the two strains may itself be an affective one, of the reading experience itself. The ontological strain is mostly composed of men working either outside of English departments or focusing heavily on particular philosophers, such as Spinoza, Deleuze, and Whitehead. Hence there is more of an incentive for systematic thinking and exposition of the history of philosophy. Most of the people in the cultural strain are prominent women feminist and queer theorists firmly ensconced in English departments and who often turn to particular textual readings as a means to elucidate the power of affect. Materially it is also noticeable that almost all of these works are published by Duke University Press. The different institutional and disciplinary boundaries of different thinkers concerned with affect would seem to itself produce affective differences in their work, a connection that perhaps proves the usefulness of affect for describing our particular attractions and annoyances with different thinkers. I do not want to claim that either strain has a better definition or use of affect. Instead to read affect theory may itself be an aesthetic experience in Whitehead’s terms, as it lures us in without fully surrendering all of its mysteries.
“Phallocentrism is exactly that: not primarily the denial of power to women (although it has obviously also led to that, everywhere and at all times), but above all the denial of the value of powerlessness in both men and women.”—Leo Bersani, Is the Rectum a Grave? (via kontynuujjj)
“Indeed, the desire for marriage completes a long process by which LGBT [*QIA] people, having been separated from normative society and called pathological, are now embraced and in turn embrace the very cultures that rejected them. In fact, I would take this point further: the participation of [white, male, highly educated and able-bodied] LGBT couples in state-sanctioned marriages lends credibility to the very institution that has acquired meaning precisely though excluding [predominately POC, disabled and poor] gays and lesbians, among others, from marriage in the first place.”— J. Jack Halberstam [emphasis are mine] (via queerintersectional)
“Nobody should accept one standard way of saying things, but I want this to be clear too, that at the same time you can’t have endless varieties of people naming themselves, we do live in a world of categories. Some of those categories have contemporary currency and some don’t. So what butch meant to me in the 1990s is not what butch means now to people. But you can’t just come up with your own name and expect everyone to know what it means, we live with language and the restrictions that language gives us. Some of those restrictions are around intelligibility and legibility. If I call myself a blanket, you know, “I don’t have a gender, so I’m saying blank, then adding et.” Well okay, interesting, but you can’t go around in the world saying, “I’m a blanket,” and expect anyone to know what you mean. They don’t. In fact, terms need communities of users in order to give them validity. Transgender became a term because it explains something that was missing from this medical classification of cross identified bodies, and there was a community of people who wanted to use the term. But each and every person’s own understanding of self doesn’t deserve a name. We also have to group, we have to come up with shorthand and terms that we share and ways of thinking about ourselves in relationship to others. Unfortunately we live in an age where everyone thinks they’re different, that their genders are so unique it can’t be expressed through common language. Well, it’s probably not that unique, when you really question that person you find out that it’s a run of the mill variation on something known.”—
okay, so this is from an old interview, and not everyone loves Halberstam, but I came across this yesterday and it was just, like, yes, yes, yes, because know your history. because every single sparkly gender or sexual identity is not actually that special, as it turns out, and I’ve been thinking about this a lot - especially thinking about why historic ways of identifying matter, and how that’s shaped my understanding of myself and also what LGBT/queer identity means in general. anyway the rest of the interview is alright.
(for the purposes of sourcing, I was looking thru the pages of saltmarshhag’s blog that are available on the waybackmachine yesterday, because I was feeling really nostalgic about her. funny [not funny] how some of the smartest people I know get run off tumblr. it happens all the time.)